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Saturday, August 30, 2014

Orthos's Observations: Kobolds

Back in the early-mid 2000s, probably around 2005, I got introduced to how awesome Kobolds were.

My then-roommate, who goes by the username Journeyman, taught me some of the ins-and-outs of GMing in those early days, back when the majority of my gaming experience was via Neverwinter Nights and my PnP participation was limited to a single game where I was playerside and a halfhearted GMing attempt that lasted maybe two months. In those early halcyon days, most of my time was occupied with trying to finagle out the differences between PnP gaming and NWN gaming (not to mention the differences between 3.5 and 3.0, respectively) so I appreciated having more experienced fellow players, particularly Journey, my future sister-in-law Belladonna/Ebon-Fyre, and the rest of that original group to give me tips, advice, corrections, and such-like.

Among the many other tips and tricks I received as a newbie player and GM, one that Journey seemed particularly fond of was the entry that was at the bottom of quite a few statblocks in the 3.5 Monster Manuals: "Advances by character class". He explained the usefulness of this in turning what could start as a relatively unimpressive opponent such as a goblin or kobold into a powerful challenge just by leveling them up, same as the normal player races. From there it was fairly simple to extract that if these creatures could be used as enemies built up with levels just like players, what's to say they can't actually BE a player's character? He was all too happy to display the answer to that unspoken question as well - one of the first campaigns we were in together was the root of a plot I would very much like to run again one day, Fimbulwinter Come, starring my half-fiend cleric (or possibly oracle, now) Alu'Vien Darkstar and his kobold sorcerer Cheel Vorastryx.

I ran the original version of FWC in NWN, creating Vien, Cheel, and their fey partner Frostwillow and wizard minion Delzomen as NPCs on the server and siccing them and their plans for an eternal winter on the unsuspecting citizens of Cormyr. It was the longest-running, farthest-spanning plot I'd ever run, almost always an ad-lib event or two from time to time, building up rivalries and enmity with various members of the adventurer population and such, eventually brewing up to some major large-scale events. And it was during this time that WotC released Races of the Dragon - a book that easily ranks among the top-ten 3.5 products I ever purchased.

Man I loved that book. I loved almost everything in it. I wasn't ever really impressed by Spellscales, admittedly, but everything else? Dragonborn! Bahamut and Tiamat! Expansions on stuff from Draconomicon! Half-Dragons! Cool prestige classes! And KOBOLDS! Kobold culture! Kobold society! Kobold mindsets! Kobold traps! Kobold magic! Kobold history! I must have read RotD a hundred or more times. Even now, years later and having moved on mostly to Pathfinder and no longer using any setting but Finiens, I still find myself referring back to stuff out of RotD.

Reading RotD and working on stuff for the Fimbulwinter plot - which, when minions were necessary, almost always fell to either Cheel's kobold tribe or Delzomen's constructs - solidified and permanized my love of the Kobold race. And unlike many of their fans, it wasn't their "eternal underdog" nature that made me love them, though I am rather fond of it as mentioned in prior posts. Rather, it was their craftiness, their cunning, and their penchant for sorcery. So when the time came for me to turn my back on other settings and begin the work on crafting my own, I knew without a doubt that Kobolds would play a major part in it.

The question was what to do with them.

Well, if you've read the preceding articles, you already know the answer to that. With Kobolds no longer being a "monstrous" race but rather a normal part of civilization, there was a sudden crowding in the "underground-dwelling, mining-and-creation-based culture" niche for the world, which was solved by the relocating of Dwarves to being seafaring traders and pirates. After that, Kobolds slid into their niche in the world without a problem. Honestly, judging by comments in places like RotD, all we really did was set up the Kobold race the way they'd started in settings such as FR and Greyhawk, and just removed the douche move by Garl Glittergold of collapsing their primary tunnel-city and setting Kurtulmak on the road of revenge that led to Kobolds being Lawful Evil as a species and not having a chance to enter normal advanced society.

As a result we also removed the built-in enmity between Kobolds and Gnomes, which frankly doesn't make sense without the imbecilic "Garl why are you performing genocide as a 'prank' and otherwise not acting Good-aligned" story anyway, and with Paizo's brilliant re-imagining of Gnomes I have no idea why that rivalry, or the mechanical bonus against reptilian humanoids, is still in their statblock (which it isn't, for Finiens Gnomes, which I'll get to in time).

Kobolds being as numerous and wide-spread as they are in Finiens is, admittedly, done mostly for my own amusement, and so I can have a Kobold show up in almost any part of the world without a second glance. I like that they, much like Halflings, can live underfoot almost anywhere, and that between them and the handful of other Small-sized races Finiens has (such as the Gnomes and Runari) there can be this sort of "under-civilization" in almost any location that caters to the vertically-challenged. And, despite their lack of physical impressiveness, their skill at craftsmanship and smithing is renown almost anywhere, much like the tradition of Dwarves having the greatest metalcraft in a setting - it seemed only fitting that if we were going to give Kobolds the traditional Dwarven niche, they should have it in full.

So that's the long and short of it. If nothing else, the peoples of Finiens can probably rest easy knowing that more often than not, Tucker's Kobolds are going to be on their side in this setting, rather than fending off the latest adventurer invasion.

Denizens of Finiens: Kobolds

While across the entire world other races came to be, formed of dust and the will of the Aspects on the sunlit surface of Finiens or brewed in the depths of the waters, one in particular was crafted differently. If legends are held to be true, a creative force - perhaps the Ancient of Days herself, or maybe Chthon, Lord of the Deep Places - brought forth the very stone to set to life. The ancient rock was carved into many smaller forms, carved and designed. Bodies of stone, minds of metal, and eyes of gems were combined in a shape found pleasing to the creator, then kindled with the very blood of the earth, with a drop of dragon's blood for a heart. Thus, or so their myths claim, did the Kobolds come to be.

It's very difficult to place an exact date for the creation of the Kobolds due to their subterranean origin. Born and bred deep within the earth, it was quite some time before their industrious civilization reached the open sky; while it is known that their existence predates the arrival of the Elves and their banishment from FaeReie, as the source of the name "Elf" comes from the Kobolds themselves, and therefore also predates the arrival of the Humans, Halflings, and Yuan-Ti to Stormwind, judging their timeline against their fellow natives such as the Orcs and the Leoni is more difficult. Both races' oral traditions make frequent reference to the "mountain lizards", but as with all such traditions it is difficult to put times to such methods of information exchange. Suffice to say, however, that the Kobolds are an old race, even if their presence on the surface is less ancient.

Kobolds originated within the deep crags, winding tunnels, and subterranean caverns within the heart of the Titans, the monolithic mountain range that divides the continent of Stormwind into thirds. According to their own histories, the original created Kobolds divided into pairs, male and female, and spread through the veins of the earth to establish their clans in distant regions. These parental pairs became the chieftains of the first tribes, and after bolstering their numbers with their children and grandchildren, they began the laborious task of claiming the depths for themselves, driving forth the subterranean wildlife and taming the earth to their touch.

And for Kobolds, "taming the earth" meant mining. Their hardy bodies, sturdy scales, surprising endurance, and keen minds, hands, and eyes for craftsmanship made them master craftsmen, and within a few short, swift generations the Kobolds had established their birthright - to seek the treasures buried within the earth, the hidden vaults of Ireshkigal and Chthon where riches are concealed, and to make of them something wonderful and new. Kobolds discovered and mastered smithing, smelting, alloys, and all manner of metallurgic craft well before any other race on Stormwind, perhaps even before anything else on Finiens. And as their numbers multiplied and their claims spread, they dug upward, searching ever more for greater treasures and for something they knew awaited them once there was stone no more.

What lurked beyond that final wall was the vast expanse of the surface world, and their neighbor mortal races. From oral traditions and scattered records, it is presumed that their first encounters did not go well - Kobolds were seen as small and weak by the Orcs and Leoni, and their affinity for cold metal was anathema to the fey Elves. And while small they were, the Kobolds were cunning and patient; when the Orcs attempted to subjugate and overrun the tiny "mountain lizards" they had discovered, they found themselves swiftly outdone not by strength of arms but by the tactics of a race used to dealing with opposition much larger than themselves. They faced not soldiers and war champions but traps, trickery, and overwhelming odds. It would not be until the arrival of the Humans that the Orcish conquest would surge south again, and even then, the legends of Kobold trickery still were well-known among the folk of the Ice Claw, and their invasions would steer clear of known Kobold territories.

Yet they are not without their follies. It was the Kobolds, turning their delving downwards once more upon discovering the end of their ascending journey, who dug too deep and unearthed a sleeping horror. Buried in the heart of the Titans was the first of the mighty Children of Perdition, the titanic Firbohlg. Roused by the disturbing of its slumbering chamber, the giant tore its way to the surface and began a rampage of destruction and chaos on the northern continent. So grand was the behemoth's fury that the very Titans themselves were shoved almost as a whole to the east, sending vast portions of the Sentara wood and the plains that would have become part of Olympia in the future to instead become part of the vast desert later known as Denvushain to the west, where their position between the wastes and the ranges eventually led them to decay into yet more sandy expanse. For the first time, alliance was had between the disparate races of Stormwind, and the Orcs, Leoni, Elves, and Kobolds worked together to eventually return the titan to its ageless sleep.

Nevertheless, many tribes were admonished and scorned for their part in the wakening of the creature, and as opportunity arose, they removed themselves from what were increasingly becoming unfriendly lands. Dwarven sailors arrived within a few generations following the destructive events; where they brought exotic strangers such as Humans and Halflings to Stormwind, they departed with crews and passengers of many Kobolds, who made the returning journey to Wachara then spread as broadly as they had in their original homeland, seeking anywhere that promised the riches hidden beneath the earth yet to be plundered. As time wore away the hostility and infamy of their misadventures, the Kobold race came to be yet greater respected by their peers for their enviable talents in working with metal, and it was through their labors that smithing and smelting were brought to most of the other races of Finiens. And even now, millennia after, though any smith with a hammer and anvil can make a blade, there is inimitable mastery in the work of a Kobold that no other culture can truly duplicate.

Industrious and energetic by culture and subterranean by nature, Kobolds are rarely idle; they are, almost instinctively, a race of constant workers, regardless what task they find themselves assigned to. For the most part, this work is in some form or fashion related to the art of mining - be it digging up the metals, ores, and gems that their bounty hides, or refining and smithing those materials into more useful or efficient shapes and forms, or putting those new resources to work - quite often, in starting the whole cycle over again. Necessity is the root of invention, and for working Kobolds, there is always a need for new tools, new resources, and new ideas. Inventive to the core, Kobolds are as eager to mix traditional methods with new experiments, always striving for the ultimate goal of efficiency.

As a race, Kobolds have almost no enemies. They can live nearly anywhere that allows for subterranean delving; once they have breached the surface and established a tunnel, they are swift to create barrows where they can dwell, mining out the resources and expanding their network of winding paths into the below searching for yet more treasures. Kobolds reside on every continent save the scattered isles of Senkaku, and even in the most extreme temperatures have adapted - through mundane or sorcerous means - to survive in otherwise inhospitable terrain. Individual clans may have rivalries or enemies, but as a race the only overall opposition they face is among cultures such as Anhur who revile and refuse all other species but their own.


Notable Edits: Mechanics
 Kobold Stats
* Ability Score Racial Traits: Kobolds are fast and nimble, and have become hardy and resilient after years spent toiling beneath the earth, but their small size makes them individually weak. They gain +2 Dexterity, +2 Constitution, and –2 Strength.
* Type: Kobolds are Humanoid creatures with the reptilian subtype.
* Size: Kobolds are Small creatures and gain a +1 size bonus to their AC, a +1 size bonus on attack rolls, a –1 penalty to their CMB and CMD, and a +4 size bonus on Stealth checks.
* Base Speed: Kobolds have a base speed of 30 feet.
* Languages: Kobolds begin play speaking Common and Draconic. Kobolds with high Intelligence scores can choose from the following: Aklo, Giant, Goblin, Naga, Orc, Terran, and Undercommon.
* Armored: A Kobold's naturally scaly skin grants them a +1 natural armor bonus.
* Crafty: Kobolds gain a +2 racial bonus on Craft (trapmaking), Craft (any metalworking), Perception, and Profession (miner) checks. Craft (traps), Craft (any metalworking), and Stealth are always class skills for a kobold.
* Weapon Familiarity: Kobolds are proficient with all picks and hammers, and treat any weapon with the word "kobold" in its name as a martial weapon. (Note: Most of the core rulebook "dwarven" and "gnomish" weapons are usually kobold or orc make, and thus may be associated with this talent.)
* Minesight: Kobolds can see perfectly in the dark up to 90 feet, but are automatically dazzled in bright light and take a –2 penalty on saving throws against effects with the light descriptor. Kobolds regularly produce sundark goggles from obsidian or onyx chips to protect their eyes when traveling on the surface; kobolds wearing such goggles lose the dazzled effect from light and reduce their save penalty versus light spells to -1.